Legislative hopefuls sound off at forum

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Jim Condon and Pat Liebrecht participate in a CCDC forum last week at the Elley-Long Music Center at Fort Ethan Allen. (Photo by Jason Starr)

Jim Condon and Pat Liebrecht participate in a CCDC forum last week at the Elley-Long Music Center at Fort Ethan Allen. (Photo by Jason Starr)

All seven contenders for the five legislative positions open in Colchester this November showed to a forum last week, touting their beliefs and policies.

The Colchester Community Development Corporation hosted last Wednesday’s event at the Elley-Long Music Center in Fort Ethan Allen.

In attendance were Democrat incumbent Dick Mazza, running unopposed for the Senate; Republican Pat Brennan and Democrat Maureen Dakin, running unopposed for re-election to the two House District 9-2 seats; and Republicans Pat Liebrecht and Joey Purvis and Democrats Curt Taylor and Jim Condon, all vying for two seats in House District 9-1.

About 30 people came out to listen and ask questions of the candidates. Several in the audience are members of CCDC, an advocacy and networking group for local business owners.

Between introductions and closing statements, much of the 90-minute forum focused on questions of health care policy, with only Dakin offering mild support for Vermont’s troubled health insurance exchange, Vermont Health Connect.

“I think the answer is going to be a federal one,” Condon said. “We made the wrong choice going with our own exchange.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin recently received federal approval to move the state toward an “all-payer” health insurance model, where providers are reimbursed at standard rates on the basis of keeping patients healthy, to replace the current fee-for-service model.

On the same day as the forum, the Green Mountain Care Board held its second of five public hearings on the model. There was little support, and in some cases real disdain, for the idea among Colchester’s candidates.

“If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free,” Liebrecht said, repeating a refrain from political satirist P.J. O’Rourke. “The solution is to get the government out of it and go back to the free market … Choice brings the cost down and improves the quality.”

Liebrecht, a first-time challenger for a House seat, called the Green Mountain Care Board “unelected bureaucrats” who shouldn’t set health care policy.

Purvis said an all-payer system will lead to provider consolidation that leaves independent physicians out of the system.

Tangential to health insurance, Mazza said he supports standardizing the amount of opiate-based pharmaceuticals doctors can prescribe to combat the rise in prescription pill and heroin abuse.

“There’s an epidemic out there, and I think we need to start with the doctors,” he said.

Candidates also discussed energy development. Taylor offered tepid support for wind turbines, qualifying it by questioning government incentives.

Brennan said there’s a place for small-scale wind, but it should not be a cornerstone of the state’s aggressive renewable energy goals.

“To hack up our ridgelines and destroy wildlife and views, I don’t think it’s the right answer,” he said.

Purvis agreed, saying, “Hydro-Quebec is the best economical answer to renewable energy. We need to renew that and stay with Hydro-Quebec.”

Dakin said large-scale wind farms are not a good fit for Vermont and praised last year’s passage of Act 174 that allows greater local control of where wind and solar farms are located.

The forum was a chance to get acquainted with challengers Liebrecht and Taylor and re-acquainted with incumbents, most of whom have served multiple terms, and in Mazza’s case, have represented Colchester for decades.

In introductory statements, Purvis said he’s running to make Vermont more affordable. In the same vein, Liebrecht said he’s running to help control state spending.

Condon touted his record of being a tax increase watchdog on the House Ways and Means Committee and his commitment to helping residents deal with state agencies.

Taylor described his diverse personal and professional history, open-mindedness and willingness to learn as a potential asset in the legislature.

Brennan said he’s developed a passion for transportation since taking over as chairman of the House Transportation Committee and more recently becoming a student of water quality.

Dakin said she’d focus on workforce training, consumer protection and broadband expansion.

Mazza emphasized the importance of citizen participation in the election as a new governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker and Senate president will be elected this year.

“I love what I do, and I love the community,” Mazza said. “I hope to continue doing it as long as you let me.”